Power Rangers, that show about teens who turn into superheros in colorful helmets, has been on the air in one form or another since 1993. That’s 25 years of TV shows and three movies. Let that sink in for a second.
As the series celebrates its 25th anniversary, former CNET editor Luke Lancaster, who watched Power Rangers as a kid, and associate editor Mike Sorrentino, a longtime fan, cast their gaze back over those decades of morphin’ action. By which we mean, Luke tries to guess what’s going on based on the show’s increasingly obscure titles, and Mike tells us what each version of the show was actually about.
Let’s see which makes more sense…
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993)
Luke: The O.G. Rangers. The Rangers of my childhood. The original teens with attitude, which does honestly seem like a pretty poor prerequisite for recruiting a superhero team. Are they even legally allowed behind the wheel of those giant robots?
Mike: Yep, if a 16-year-old were actually given the keys to a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex, we should all run! Power Rangers is based off the Japanese TV show Super Sentai, which has been continuously broadcasting since 1977. MMPR scenes with the teens were shot in the US, then intercut with fight footage from Super Sentai.
This original Mighty Morphin lineup pitted the colorfully costumed kids against the villainous Rita Repulsa in hand-to-hand combat and in their dino-themed Zord vehicles. We also meet the evil green ranger Tommy, who eventually comes over to the right side.
This is the series that kicked off a show that’s still on today — 24 seasons divided into 20 different themed series, not to mention two movies. The show is so classic that instead of producing a new series in 2010, 32 episodes of this original series were ‘re-mastered’ with new graphics and put on the air.
Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers (1996)
Luke: I thought I had seen more Rangers than just the first series, but I was mistaken. I assume these are still teens with attitude who can transform into ninjas in motorcycle helmets. They just happen to be from a different planet?
Mike: Sort of. This short, 10-episode series bridges the third season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers into the next series Power Rangers Zeo. Time on Earth gets reversed by an ‘Orb of Doom’, leaving the previous Ranger team too young to save the world. Billy is able to become an adult again, but just as that happens, the Power Coins that give the Rangers their powers are destroyed. Luckily, Zordon calls up his friends on the planet of Aquitar, who happen to be a Power Ranger team too. They protect the world while everyone else tracks down pieces of the Zeo Crystal, which restores the Earth back to its original time.
Luke: Sure, that makes sense.
Power Rangers Zeo (1996)
Luke: I misread that as ‘Zero’. I was going to make a Smashing Pumpkin joke. Instead, I’ll guess this is when Power Rangers decides to go full expanded universe and dump a whole bunch of interconnected backstory and lore.
Mike: Nope, they manage to keep the story going. That Zeo Crystal from Alien Rangers brought the Earth back to 1996 and serves as the new power source for the five rangers. Other highlights include Blue Ranger Billy taking on a technical advisor role instead of being a Ranger, a new villain in the form of the Machine Empire and (fresh from a ‘peace conference‘) the return of original Red Ranger Jason who becomes the new Gold Ranger.
Power Rangers Turbo (1997)
Luke: They replace the animal Zords with cars, right? I’m going to guess the Megazord is just a big car.
Mike: Yep! This was also the only Power Rangers season to get its kickoff from a movie. Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, in which an intergalactic pirate kidnaps a wizard so she can marry a demon, saw the Blue Ranger role transfer to a kid named Justin, who seems to grow a foot taller every time he morphs.
The subsequent show is also when Power Rangers cleaned house, as Zordon, Alpha 5, Tommy, Adam, Kat and Tanya all left the series. And yes, everyone got replaced (meet Alpha 6). Plus, the Rangers get baked into a pizza!
Power Rangers in Space (1998)
Luke: I feel like I’m cheating this one. It has to be the Power Rangers go to space. If I’m wrong I don’t know what’s true anymore.
Mike: Funny thing about that… They didn’t actually spend much time in space at all during this series. Hoping to rescue a captured Zordon, the remaining Rangers hijack a space shuttle for their rescue mission. They end up on the Astro Megaship where they meet Andros, the Red Space Ranger, who gives the rest of the team new Ranger powers. Then they spend most of their time protecting Earth.
Ultimately, this series actually serves as the conclusion of the Power Rangers story that started in 1993, ending with (warning: 20-year-old SPOILER ALERT) Zordon sacrificing himself to save the universe. Yes, Zordon is dead.
Power Rangers Lost Galaxy (1999)
Luke: This has to be a direct continuation of Power Rangers in Space, right? Only they get lost. But Lost in Space was obviously taken. Danger, Will Robinson.
Mike: In a way, you’re completely right. This is the first Power Rangers series that isn’t directly connected to the previous season. It’s a move that follows the pattern of Super Sentai, which changes up its cast and suits every year. However, there’s plenty of fallout from Power Rangers In Space, connecting ideas and carryover cast members (Bulk and Alpha 6 are still around).
A new Power Rangers team protects a space colony that is seeking out a new place for humans to live. This show was also the first time a Ranger was killed in the show, as Pink Ranger actress Valerie Vernon needed to depart following a leukemia diagnosis in real life. They ultimately brought the character back, but not until the end of the season.
Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue (2000)
Luke: I’m going for the trifecta here, saying this rounded out the trilogy. Because how else do you save someone in a Lost Galaxy?
Mike: Wrong, although the Lost Galaxy Rangers make a cameo. This series brings the action back to Earth, and is the first series where the Power Rangers don’t hide their identities. It’s also the first in the series to feature a Ranger that wasn’t first a character on the Japanese ‘Super Sentai’ series — the Titanium Ranger was created just for this show.
Power Rangers Time Force (2001)
Luke: I guess TARDIS is the other way to save them. Crossover with Doctor Who?
Mike: It’s definitely a timey-wimey season. The Time Force Rangers, who are a kind of time police, travel back a thousand years to 2001 to chase after the mutant Ransik, who seemingly kills off the Red Ranger. So the team finds the present-day ancestor of the Red Ranger, and give him the power instead.
Power Rangers Wild Force (2002)
Luke: Seriously how many of these are there?
Mike: You’ll also start noticing the recycling of themes — this won’t be the last animal-themed Ranger season.
Luke: In this one I’m going to guess these Power Rangers get their powers from a zoo. A magic zoo.
Mike: Close — a turtle-shaped island floating in the sky. This season is also notable for its Forever Red crossover episode, which brings together nearly every Red Ranger ever in one giant battle to stop the Machine Empire from turning back on Lord Zedd’s Serpentera Zord.
Also, following a buyout by Disney, this is the first series in which the Power Rangers are a part of the Walt Disney company. Over the course of Disney’s ownership, the Rangers even made appearances at Disney theme parks. The company sold the franchise back to original owner Haim Saban in 2010.
Power Rangers Ninja Storm (2003)
Luke: I remember the ’96 movie had ninjas as a thing. I’m gonna guess one of those Rangers came back as their sensei.
Mike: Oh man, you’re only one season off with that guess! This was the first season filmed in New Zealand, where the show is still made today. In another format change, this season begins with a team of just three Rangers before eventually growing to include three more.
Power Rangers Dino Thunder (2004)
Luke: Did they have cars as Zords all this time, and now they finally have dinosaurs again? (For the record, only three of the original five Zords were actually dinosaurs. That still bothers me).
Mike: Zords are always just giant cars. And in this season, nearly every Zord is based on a dinosaur as opposed to a Saber-toothed cat or a Mastodon. But more importantly, Tommy Oliver is back, and he’s now the Black Ranger! The fabled former Green Ranger has become a paleontology professor, and serves as a mentor-like figure at first before morphin once again. Unfortunately, he doesn’t appear to be dating either former Pink Ranger Kimberly or Kat, though (sorry shippers!).
Power Rangers S.P.D. (2005)
Luke: Power Rangers meets European politics? I don’t know what else S.P.D. stands for.
Mike: Space Patrol Delta! This series takes place in 2025, where humans now live and work together with alien species like in Mass Effect. This season has no less than 14 Power Rangers, divided into an A-Squad and B-Squad. The A group disappears, so we spend most of the time with the B-Squad as they protect the Earth from the Troobian Empire and investigate what became of their higher-ranked colleagues.
Power Rangers Mystic Force (2006)
Luke: Clearly the attempt to cash in on Pottermania. The Rangers leave behind Angel Grove and go to a boarding school similar to, yet legally distinct from, Hogwarts.
Mike: Break out the magic and the capes! Yes, the Power Rangers are now essentially wizards, and the morphers have become flip phones. And all five actors playing the core Rangers are of Australian or New Zealand descent for the first time.
Power Rangers Operation Overdrive (2007)
Luke: The Rangers split their time between defending the world and trying to pass Driver’s Ed. It culminates in a two-part road trip episode. Ultimately the bad guys are defeated because they don’t know how to drive stick.
Mike: This series is a bit more like Power Rangers meets the Uncharted video game series. The Rangers on this team are specifically picked to race around the world discovering magical jewels before the gems fall into the wrong hands. And in a late-series twist, the Red Ranger is revealed to be an android instead of a human.
Power Rangers Jungle Fury (2008)
Luke: After 25 years, Alpha 5 discovers that the ‘attitude’ that all these teenagers were afflicted with was actually a tropical disease contracted on a trip to the darkest parts of the Amazon.
Mike: No Alpha 5 in sight, I’m afraid. These animal-themed Rangers use sunglasses to morph, operating out of a pizza joint. Fun fact: Red Ranger actor Jason Smith once co-starred with Thor actor Chris Hemsworth back when they were on Australia’s Home and Away soap opera.
Power Rangers RPM (2009)
Luke: It’s another car one, right? But I’m gonna say this is where it crosses over with The Fast and the Furious. Vin Diesel would make an excellent Power Ranger.
Mike: More like Terminator: Salvation. This show takes place in a very post-apocalyptic version of Earth, and the Rangers of this show are protecting the last city on the planet that is protected from its toxic atmosphere. Dicey premise aside, this show’s alumni includes Eka Darville, who later played Malcolm Ducasse on Marvel’s Jessica Jones series, and Rose McIver, who now has the lead role on iZombie.
Power Rangers Samurai and Power Rangers Super Samurai (2011)
Luke: The Rangers, in the strangest series yet, break through the fourth wall and go to Japan to see where Super Sentai was made.
Mike: The show returned after 2010, the one year there wasn’t a brand new Power Rangers series. This new Power Rangers team are using phones to morph again, and the only thing ‘Super’ for the back half of their story is a Super Samurai mode the Rangers unlock.
A big bright spot to this season was the return of Paul Schrier, in the comic relief role of Bulk from the first few seasons. While Jason Narvy’s Skull only makes a cameo in the final episode, the reunion has a nice nostalgic payoff. This season is also the first that Haim Saban took control over after buying the franchise back from Disney.
Power Rangers Megaforce (2013) and Power Rangers Super Megaforce (2014)
Luke: OK guys, we get it. You’re just stringing impressive-sounding words together now. Are you going full Apple and just adding an S to last year’s model?
Mike: This was probably a tough one for the producers to name. For the first time since perhaps the Mighty Morphin era, one Power Rangers team needed to use the suits and powers from two different Super Sentai television series. And one of those series was Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, a giant anniversary series in which the team can transform into every Power Ranger ever.
The result for the US adaptation were frenetic battles in which Rangers would change from their base suit into those from the Mighty Morphin, Turbo, Lost Galaxy and Wild Force eras, all in the same battle. The season culminated in a gigantic battle that also featured every Ranger ever, including the return of Jason David Frank as Tommy in his Green Ranger suit.
As an aside, I wanted to be the Green Super Megaforce Ranger for Halloween in 2014, but that costume wasn’t being sold in an adult size.
Power Rangers Dino Charge (2015) and Power Rangers Dino Super Charge (2016)
Luke: Oh. You really are doing the S thing. Though I guess the dinosaurs are back now? Or do they go back in time and fight real dinosaurs? I’d like to see a T. rex do karate.
Mike: This team of Rangers are seeking out the Energems — jewels that power the Rangers’ superpowers and are apparently a ‘fountain of youth.’ For instance, Koda the Blue Ranger is a 100,000-year-old cave dweller who didn’t age after finding the Blue Energem. Later in the series, the Red Ranger meets his long-lost father who also hasn’t aged at all due to an Energem, making the father-son duo look more like brothers.
Power Rangers Ninja Steel (2017)
Luke: Wasn’t there already one with this name?
Mike: This brings us up to date. The current series starts off pretty dark: a boy named Brody gets kidnapped by aliens, and remains lost for 10 years before finally escaping back to Earth. On his way out, he steals an item that lets him and two other new friends become Power Rangers.
Power Rangers: Super Ninja Steel (2018)
Luke: They really are just moving words around!
Mike: This exact title pattern continues. This series will be the 25th anniversary of Power Rangers. It’ll feature a special episode that brings popular Rangers from past seasons kicking their way back into the limelight.
Luke: I might even recognise some of them…
Editors’ note: From here on out, updates will be handled by Mike alone, but Power Rangers remains as fun and strange as ever.
Power Rangers Beast Morphers (2019)
Mike: Beast Morphers will be the first Power Rangers series made after Hasbro purchased the franchise in May as part of a 22 million cash and stock deal. It’s also the first Power Rangers series to adapt a previously skipped Sentai series: Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters.
Beast Morphers will kick off with three Power Rangers (but as usual, expect that cast to grow in time). While production is early on the show, the series synopsis says that this team will be created when a secret agency combines a substance called ‘Morph-X’ with animal DNA. These leather-suited Rangers will be charged with defending the source of all Power Rangers power: the Morphin Grid.
So there you have it — 25 years of morphin’ history. Because let’s be real, you probably tuned out after one of the many, many power transfers.
First published March 25, 2017 at 5 a.m. PT and updated as more Power Rangers series get announced.